New App Offers Alerts for FDA Food Recalls Related to “Top 8” Allergens

AllertMe AppThe end of 2015 saw a lot of action on the food allergy news front with regard to advocating for better disclosure of food allergens on the part of manufacturers. In particular, two groups–SnackSafely.com and the Center for Science in the Public Interest–have been making strides.

One issue for food allergy parents is keeping track of FDA food recalls due to the presence of undeclared allergens, because the FDA is finding food allergens “where they shouldn’t be,” according to a SnackSafely.com report.

Just weeks before Congress introduced a bill designed to improve food labels, a father from Chambersburg, Pa., whose family has been managing life-threatening food allergies for several years, released with the help of Cross & Crown an app they created entitled “AllertMe”—to notify food allergy parents like me about undeclared allergens and other safety issues that may exist in our products.

You Can Select Which Top 8 Allergens You Want to Track

Speaking of disclosure, I first learned about this app in its early stages. We just happen to be Little Gym members. Having been happy customers for years, the owner and I became friends, so he knew about our food allergy journey, our interests in promoting food allergy awareness, and my children’s picture book about food allergies.

One day he shared that his brother, Tim Mussmon, had an app in the works. Before writing this post, I bought the AllertMe app to really see how it works for a few months. I wanted to be able to share with my fellow food allergy mamas and papas my family’s experience.

So, while my family has food allergies that are not covered by the app because they include allergens that are not within the so-called Top 8, I customized the settings to alert me to my family’s food allergies that are in the Top 8, along with safety alerts.

App Gave Heads-Up About Key Food Recalls

Sure enough, we received some key alerts over the holidays. On Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, at 10:11 p.m., I was alerted to the voluntary recall by Mars Chocolate North America of its DOVE Chocolate Assortment Snowflakes due to undeclared peanuts, wheat and egg. Specific cases of the item may contain Snickers, Milky Way and Twix pieces, and these ingredients were not listed on the ingredient label, according to the app.

Obviously, this was huge news and a very important recall. I also received the news via my go-to food allergy organizations and resources–Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), Loudoun Allergy Network (LAN) and Kids With Food Allergies–via email, Facebook and Twitter. But I also received the alert via Tim Mussmon’s app, which you can set to alert you through notifications.

For people buying these special holiday candies over the holidays and serving them at parties and family gatherings, the alert couldn’t come soon enough.

Another recall alert on that same day that was important for my family was a voluntary recall notice for certain boxes of Zatarain’s Red Beans and Rice Original due to potentially containing undeclared Creamy Parmesan Rice Mix with dairy ingredients.

The app also alerted me to the Sweet Leaf Tea Company’s voluntary recall of its tea in 16 ounce bottles due to the possible presence of glass fragments. (If any of you know me and my iced teas, this is one of my favorites.)

Getting down to the basics, you can select from 10 recall categories for your feed that include the “Top 8” allergens in the United States–eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, wheat, fish and shellfish–in addition to sulfite and safety alerts.

Moving Forward With Food Labels and Disclosures

Many in the food allergy community, especially leading groups like SnackSafely.com, have been actively advocating for greater and better disclosures on the FDA’s food labels in the United States. Basically, only the so-called Top 8 allergens–milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nut, shellfish and fish–that are ingredients in a product are covered by the FDA’s guidelines.

Under the FDA’s rules, manufacturers must disclose and label if these allergens are ingredients of a product, but one of the problems is that the FDA does not require disclosure of potential cross-contamination with these allergens. Thus, manufacturer disclosures about these risks have been all across the board and therefore difficult to navigate and rely on.

This gray zone, if you will, is something that has been difficult for many parents like me to wrap our minds around as well as navigate while trying to keep our children with food allergies safe.

It basically means that manufacturer warnings like “may contain” and “manufactured on equipment with” are voluntary. So, SnackSafely.com warns, the absence of a warning doesn’t mean there isn’t a risk.

As the FDA explains in its consumer update, “some labels may not be as reliable as they should be.” (For more details on the FDA’s consumer update, “Finding Food Allergens Where They Shouldn’t Be,” visit the FDA’s website here.)

In this spirit, Snack.Safely.com has partnered with 40 companies with the launch of Allergence–a free service that will provide information about how 11 allergens–the “Top 8” allergens plus gluten, sesame and mustard–are processed during the manufacturing stage of each product.

In a similar vein, as reported by food allergy mom and advocate Homa Woodrum on her blog Oh Mah Deehness! and according to its Nov. 18, 2015, petition and press release, the Washington, D.C. nonprofit CSPI has asked the FDA to add sesame seeds and sesame products to the FDA’s list of allergens that are required to be disclosed in the ingredient lists of foods by manufacturers.

Sure enough, Congress has introduced a bill that would improve manufacturers’ labels of food allergens and add sesame to this list! According to a post by AAFA, this would help approximately 300,000 to 500,000 Americans who are allergic to sesame.

Food Allergy Parents Who Share Their Gifts

As a food allergy mama whose family’s health and safety relies on accurate readings of ingredient labels every day, these efforts on the part of Tim Mussmon, Homa Woodrum, SnackSafely.com–and everyone who has been steadfast in advocating for greater and better disclosures–give me great hope.

After all, if what we put in our mouths can be life-threatening for our bodies, we need to know exactly what we’re eating. Here’s to everyone’s continued efforts for better and immediate disclosure and transparency.

And in the meantime, I applaud dedicated parents like Tim Mussmon for the hard work that goes into creating and sharing timely and thoughtful products like the AllertMe App.

I’m so grateful to all of the inspiring members of our food allergy community who share their gifts in an effort to promote food allergy awareness and make the world a safer place for out little ones. Let’s keep it up!

Comments are still open on the FDA docket for the Citizen petition, so if you haven’t commented, you can show your support here! You can find out more about the AllertMe app here.

Photo image: Courtesy of Cross & Crown